What surprised you most when you first came to China, as a foreigner?

Mudassir Ali
Feb 29, 2020 06:49 AM 0 Answers
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Mudassir Ali
- Feb 29, 2020 06:50 AM

I just visited Beijing and Xi’an recently. I did know a bit about China before going there so I’m not surprised by its development. Beautiful high rise buildings, clean, good roads and numerous constructions everywhere in Beijing but a few things did surprised me.

You can go cashless everywhere, you can even Alipay with the street vendors, taxi Drivers and provision shops.

2) Strict Security but efficient and helpful.

Bags were scanned even when entering MTR but they were fast and efficient, I never seen any Long queues and we took the MTR quite often. The security check at the airport were strict too, they checked everyone but they were not intimidating, they were helpful and friendly. Xi’an Chinese customs caught us trying to “smuggle” bottles of chillies, they were just too yummy we needed to bring some back home. The security officer laughed he even called one of his colleague to look at the bottles of chillies and they both laughed, probably wondering why we needed to bring home their chillies. He then told us we still had enough time to checked in the bag full of chillies, so we did just that. Picture below proof that our chillies made it home.

3) Respect for public property

Something we Singaporeans can learn from. Look at how those Ofo and the likes, so neatly parked. Singaporeans know what I’m talking about. These neatly parked rental bicycles were a common sight in Beijing and Xi’an.

4) Looking forward to every meal.

I didn’t expect that I would look forward to meal time in China. I wouldn’t say I had tasted authentic Chinese cuisine because as a Muslim I only went to halal restaurant. I was told that Chinese staple food is still pork but, for halal meal they were mostly beef and mutton. Our family personal favourite were the Biang Biang noodles, stir fried vegetable with beef and the beef skewers. The Muslim Quaters in Xi’an and Niujie Street in Beijing made us spoilt for choice. We also found halal butcher at Niujie Street it was like one stop halal street.

This was at the stall at Niujie Street, Beijing. I regretted that I didn’t buy any. I just had lunch but, I should have packed some to bring back to the hotel

Muslim Quaters in Xi’an, the streets seems to never end

5) Got a little taste of Uyghur, Xinjiang culture.

There were a lot of delicious meal in China but, my favourite in Uyghur, Xinjiang meals. We went to an Uyghur, Xinjiang restaurant at Dongsi Street. We got to hear Uyghur songs, see their decoration and enjoy their food. I found Uyghur’s music rhythms seems to be more similar to Middle eastern and Indian. Even the restaurant decoration it’s something I would expect in a middle eastern or Indian restaurant. We love the food so much we went back again two days later.

I don’t know the name of this Xinjiang dish but it looks like the Indian Murtabak. I love it!

6) Hui Chinese headscarves

I noticed a few in Beijing but, most in Xi’an. I realised Hui Chinese women young and old wear head scarves that have glitters and beads rarely I seen any plain headscarves except for tourists. The men on the other hand wear simple white songkok (skull cap)

7) No obsession with head scarves (which I think Is a good thing)

I wear headscarf but was once asked if we were Christians. In another incident we enquired about halal meal at the hotel when the staff reminded us about the breakfast that came along with our room booking, that was when she realised that we were Muslim not my headscarf that gave her that impression.

8) Staring

Oohhhh… the Chinese could stare but, it’s not in a negative or racist way but curiosity. Some just stare, some would smile, some would smile and wave, one gave flying kiss and a group we met at Forbidden City requested a photo. I admit, its a mixture of feeling exotic but, uncomfortable at the same time.

9) Availability of public toilets along the street.

Although they were squatting toilets, one did not have to go to shopping centres or restaurants to look for toilets. They were available along the streets. There were also people stationed there to clean it, so the toilets were clean!

10) Spitting

I don’t like to write this but, I was surprised with so much spitting. It was spit that came all the way from the inside. Twice we were in two different cars with two different Drivers who stopped their cars to spit. We were walking to the cable car to take us to the Great Wall, someone in front of us spit, we were walking to the MTR, someone spit and many more incidents. It was like Singapore in the 80s, our government then implemented the no spitting campaign whereby people were fined if they spit. It works. I don’t know what the local Chinese think about the spitting habit, whether it’s acceptable or not.

On the whole I enjoyed my trip in China, I do hope to visit it again.

Edit: WOW 400 upvotes! Thank you so much. My 2nd most upvotes I ever received. I just remember 1 more, so here is no.11

11) Mistaken as Malaysian and Malay speaking Chinese.

Whenever my family traveled overseas we were normally be mistaken as being from South Asian or Middle Eastern countries but, in China we were frequently mistaken as Malaysian. At Silk Market when the male members of my family walked passed they spoke in English but, once they saw me with my headscarf they switched to Malay, “Murah murah seratus lima puluh saja”, (cheap cheap, one hundred and fifty only), Oh my God!!! They spoke Malay!!! these happened at a few stores. In Xi’an the same thing happened they assumed we were from Ma-la-see-ya (Malaysia) and we corrected them that we were from Xin-Chia-Pour (Singapore). Both in Beijing and Xi’an I didn’t see any Middle Eastern tourist as for South Asian they were a few but they were non Muslims. Xi’an has quite a number of Malaysian tourists. So, I guess Muslims tourist in these area were mostly Malaysians so, my guess is the assumption of headscarf means Malaysian. Sometimes it’s quite cute, they looked at us and were unsure then asked “Ma-la-see-ya?” and then we answered “Xin-Chia-pour” then they looked even more confused 😉

Mudassir Ali
- Feb 29, 2020 06:50 AM

Originally Answered: As a foreigner, when you first came to China, what surprised you most?

I must qualify my answer, I know, I know, China is a big country with huge population, with 56 identified ethnicity. I also know all area are not well developed and China has like anybody else huge and mega problems. I also know there are pockets of poverty like any other country, I also know there some people in China although very small numbers are very bitter, full venom and do not like China. I also know there are troll on Quora and waste everyone’s time.

Now that is out of the way.

As a foreigner, when you first came to China, what surprised you most?

China is a huge country, and very diversified population, I believe one life is not enough to explore this country. There are and future will be surprises, and to me they are equally important. I could not just pick one, to me there are all equal and therefore I am writing it all.

Most courteous staff at the Toronto airport: (First surprise), as soon as we stood in line and reached the clerk, he said “ welcome to China”

We used only one “Chinese airline domestic and international”

I will start from Toronto, it was straight flight for 18 hours to Beijing, First Surprise. The flight was fully booked, and it was on time, start from the air port Chinese staff, fluent bilinguals, extremely courteous, and with very warm welcome, the booking clerk, one young man from China, said “ Welcome to China” I was shocked I said it is Toronto, he said sir, when you check in, and go in that flight, you are our responsibility, therefore welcome to China, you have your boarding pass, and once you cross the gate, you are our guest.

Mudassir Ali
- Feb 29, 2020 06:51 AM

Originally Answered: As a foreigner, when you first came to China, what surprised you most?
Many things, but I’ll put down one “negative” and one “positive”:

Too much attention: I was expecting some amount of attention from Chinese people (I’m over 1.84 meters and blonde), but I did not expect the quasi-celebrity status that being foreign in China gets you. Everyone stares. All. The. Time. People take my picture with or without asking for it. I have been asked to autograph things, sit for group photo after group photo by random strangers, and attend events just so there will be a foreigner present. At first it was amusing, even gratifying (who doesn’t dream of being a celebrity?) but after a few months I was done with it. Having all eyes on you the instant you walk out your door gets very tiring; feeling watched all the time because you ARE watched all the time, not able to take on the smallest activity without everyone observing and commenting on it. I wasn’t expecting this or the huge toll it would take on my attitude and my patience. It’s gotten better as I’ve become accustomed to it, but I was really surprised that out of all the things I confronted in China, this would be one of the things that bothers me the most.

Environmental friendliness: In the West, I feel like China has become a sort of synonym for “pollution” and “environmental degradation.” True there are some environmental issues in China (the terrible air for one), but I did not expect the low level of individual contribution to these problems. I’ve learned that while China does pollute a lot of the pollution is due to the huge size of the population, and that per capita their energy usage is much much lower than that of a country like the U.S. There are signs of green energy everywhere. Almost every rooftop has a solar water heater; in some places this is the only source of hot water. In the south there are no central heating systems, some people buy wall units to heat single rooms but many go without heat or air conditioning entirely. They certainly don’t heat rooms that no one is using, and even when people do have heat they tend to wear coats indoors. Every grocery store has reusable bags; plastic bags sometimes have to be bought and are rarely offered for free at big stores. Many more people take public transportation, and the most common personal vehicle is a scooter, not a car. Everything can be repaired and almost nothing is wasted; I have had pants, coats, shoes, umbrellas, bags, and countless other things repaired when in the U.S. it would have been customary to throw them out. People just straight up have less garbage, they don’t even sell monster garbage bags for huge in home garbage cans like we have in the U.S. in most places. People are always removing plastic, glass, and metal from the garbage to sell to recyclers, and at the school I work at all of the leftover food and scraps are sent to farms to be used as fertilizer and pig feed (not so appetizing, but green at the very least). I was really surprised by this image of China as putting more effort into reducing waste and energy use than the average American bothers doing.

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